To celebrate Pride Month, Francois Desgagne, Director and LGBTQ+ Network member at CGI, shares his story on being yourself and bringing your whole self to work
Pride for me is not only about celebrating the LGBTQ+ community but it’s also an opportunity for us to be proud of ourselves as individuals – to feel that you belong like everyone else and that difference is a normal thing. We should all be seen as a person, a colleague, a friend or a partner, not based on an identity, look or sexual orientation. But, in my opinion, all of this starts with your own view.
When I joined CGI in 2002 in Saguenay (Quebec, Canada), I was openly gay to my friends and my family, as well as at university. However, despite lots of support and positivity, I was afraid to be rejected by my new colleagues as I saw myself as an exception. So, without lying, I hid this part of my life and who I really was from my team for the first 2 years. Essentially, I was myself for years outside of work, yet when I joined CGI I pushed myself back into the closet.
Why did I hide it for so long? Because I felt like a liar. To tell my colleagues I was gay would mean telling them I had lied. However, once my teammates knew, they became the best allies you could hope for and nothing had changed. I realised that we all had our own differences and I was just as worthy as any of them.
From that point in my career, I was able to see myself as part of the game just as much as any other members. I was not only able to develop my career in a great environment but I was also able to inspire others. And despite a continuous pressure in the back of my head that wanted to break me and remind me of my differences (especially each time I was with a new client or a new team), it became more important and clearer that I had to be who I was. Then, the more I lived it, the more positive the experience was and it got easier and easier with time. I think this was all part of the process to become proud of myself.
Over the last year, as a coach and mentor, I learned from many people that we all struggle at some point and we all need support and help. Just that some elements are easier to keep to yourself or harder to see. This is why we need to find a comfort zone, an ecosystem, where we can feel safe and supported.
If you had asked me in 2002, I probably would have told you that I just wanted to do a good job and not raise attention. I would never have thought that I would be in a Director's role, acting as a mentor and coach for other managers and an inspiration for some. Nor did I expect that CGI would have supported me in my journey that brought me to London (UK).
This is all proof that I can be proud of my accomplishments, the difference I have made and the appreciation I got from simply being myself. The funny thing is, the more I listen deeply to myself, the happier I am.
I will end this by telling everyone to just be yourself, authentically. Like everyone, you are unique and if you see yourself as not being who you think you should be you could also contribute to the problem. If you are afraid, build that support ecosystem that will be there for you until it gets easier. But remember that everything starts with you.